In the heart of Louisville, Kentucky, Rikaiya Long recently stood at the front of the courtroom, presenting oral arguments from the law brief she’d authored a week prior. Legal scholars listened intently while she defended her position in the case of strict liability.
Rikaiya is not a lawyer, though — she’s a high school student. And the legal scholars were student teachers from the University of Louisville.
This mock courtroom occupies half of Rikaiya’s classroom at Central High School. She is enrolled in the school’s law magnet program — one of its many “pathways” that combine academics with exposure to careers in specific fields. These programs provide students with opportunities to take career and technical education (CTE) courses that offer real, work-based learning experiences.
Research has shown that exposure like this makes students not only more likely to complete high school, but also more likely to enroll in college. Despite promising evidence, however, there remains little information accessible to families about the availability and quality of CTE high school programs.
High school is supposed to be a place of academic discovery that positions students for lifelong success. Without knowing the true breadth of programs at their disposal, students are not able to take advantage of valuable, pre-career learning opportunities.
To determine if schools provide high-quality options for students to pursue college and career, states must publish school-level data that tell us two key metrics: How many students are completing pathways programs, and how many are subsequently enrolling in college?
While vitally important, providing robust data on CTE and pathways programs alone will not ensure that they are high quality or that all students are well served; we also need to define pathway quality and promote equitable access to these programs where they exist so that all students can take advantage.
That’s why GreatSchools, a national nonprofit, recently conducted a national landscape analysis of publicly available, career-specific data to determine if we could connect parents with that data through our school profiles. (It’s part of our effort to provide families with the most complete picture of school quality possible, including sharing information on schools’ resources, practices and outcomes — and whether they are equitably distributed.)
As it turns out, only two states — Kentucky and Michigan — provide data that attempts to capture the quality of these programs, including information on student participation and outcomes for career-specific programming.
High school is supposed to be a place of academic discovery that positions students for lifelong success.
This data, combined with information on college enrollment and persistence, could help families understand how well a school is preparing students for life after high school. For some students, the plan could be college; for others, it could be high-quality technical education, the military or another skill-based vocation.
Following our analysis, we partnered with the Kentucky Board of Education to add information on career pathway offerings to our Kentucky high school profiles — connecting families across the state to this vital information. We hope it will support Kentucky families in learning about the educational opportunities available to their teenagers, while also showing other states the importance of making such data public.
Indeed, families in all 50 states and the District of Columbia should have this opportunity. The more students can learn about — and take advantage of — CTE programs at their schools, the greater the chance that they will find their right path after high school.
By participating in the law magnet program, Rikaiya discovered that she actually didn’t want to be a lawyer after all. Now, she’s set on applying her business skills to a career in public relations. So far, she’s applied to programs at three historically Black institutions: Howard University, Florida A&M University and Xavier University of Louisiana.
To fulfill the promise of high-quality career preparation programming for all students, states must prioritize greater data collection, publication and transparency. As Kentucky and Michigan demonstrate, states can develop the infrastructure necessary to collect and report this valuable information.
Students rely on data about CTE programs to make decisions about their academic and professional futures; they deserve information on all the possibilities.
Jon Deane is chief executive officer of GreatSchools.org, a national education nonprofit that supports parents through every stage of their child’s education. He brings over two decades of experience in K-12 education, previously serving as a math teacher and school administrator.
This story about career and technical education was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.